Iron Man Needs to Work With a Metals Buyer to Reduce Prototype Costs

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Sorry in advance for my little geek-out today. This past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to catch Iron Man,  and for those of you in the metals industry who have not seen it, you really must. Personally, I thought it was much better than Indiana Jones. But I couldn’t help running my little calculator in the background taking snippets from the movie and extrapolating its implications for building a prototype. I promise not to give away the movie, but suffice it to say, if you built a real world Iron Man prototype, you may have to be as rich as Tony Stark. So let’s take a look at our hero’s prototype, shall we?

Second scene, Stark’s “funvee” (his words, not mine) is attacked. Stark is saved by a doctor who attaches some sort of battery gadget to his chest to avoid a shrapnel blockage. Stark replaces this with “1.5 grams of palladium”. Not a bad low cost option at an average price of $438/ounce or .0529 ounces we are at an affordable $23. No problem there. But even this device is later replaced with a product re-design. But clearly Stark was not designing for manufacturability because he switches from cheap ole palladium to rhodium. Ouch! At $9800 an ounce, we are at $518, assuming the weights remained the same. Of course Stark did receive some additional functionality (which I can’t elaborate on at this time).

But the real cost of course (besides the fictitious arc reactor technology) is the iron man suit itself. According to this Wiki, “Stark developed a sleeker, chrome Mark II prototype version with flight capability, which led to the streamlined (and armed) Mark III red/gold armor. The gold Mark III armor was built with gold-titanium alloy to resolve the freezing problem that happened when the suit flew at high altitudes. This “gold-titanium alloy” is supposedly used in a particular series of Stark Industries’ satellites.” When I consulted with Marvel Comic’s to obtain my BOM (Bill of Material), I only found this link. Since we don’t know the titanium specification, we’ll speculate that Stark used Grade 2 Titanium – but please feel free to correct me on this point- “Grade 2 titanium, in its annealed state, is a ductile metal with the approximate strength of 6061-T6 aluminum. It is used where corrosion resistance is important, or where operating temperatures preclude the use of aluminum.” We’ll have to make a few assumptions here on the titanium both in terms of quantities and sizes. But suffice it to say that the entire suit’s titanium requirement is likely less than $1000. That leaves us with the gold. And of course, this should be the number one focus for any potential cost reduction effort. At $879 an ounce, this could start becoming pricey pretty quickly if one were to dip one’s complete suit in the stuff. According to the Marvel site, some of these suits weigh over 200 pounds. Of course we have other gadgetry loaded in but still, the gold in the suit likely weighs pounds vs. ounces.

In any event, other “powered exoskeletons” as I have learned these are called, have been prototyped for $125,000. Once Stark Industries moves to production run quantities, we’ll re-bid the requirement and see what we can do. Or if there’s enough demand, we’ll even consider locking in a long-term forward agreement to secure not only material availability for the suits — what with Boeing buying up as much titanium as it can for suppliers, I say call out all the stops — but to shave a few bucks off the bottom line for the protagonist so he can afford to replace that beatiful Cobra he wrecked. After all, there’s some metal which you can’t replace.

–Lisa Reisman

(Editor’s Note: Special thank you to Rob Volkel of Left Field Labs LLC for his research for this post.)

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